Place of philanthropy in startup DNA

Corporate social responsibility is a hot topic these days at large companies. There is a growing contingent of investors who are no longer just after returns, they also want to be associated with companies that do “good”. I want to focus on what can be done at the startup level, when you are just building out your corporate culture. I am a strong believer that philanthropy needs to be built into corporate DNA from day 1! From the moment your first revenue dollar arrives, at least some portion of it should go to charity.

Here is the “recipe” for the best program I have seen in my career:
1. Build philanthropy into the mission of your company early on. Yes, it is hard to give away a portion of your revenue, when so many of your people are on “deferred” income, but you must do it early. That is the right thing to do. The easiest formula I have seen is 5% of gross revenues up to $500K with the company matching employee donations up to $200 per year. Put it into your operating agreements, employee manuals, investor agreements, etc. etc. etc. The more places you have recorded your commitment to giving, the more likely you will follow it.
1(a). During lean times of little or no revenue, volunteer at least 4 full days of work per year per employee.
2. Have the entire organization vote on the distribution of charitable giving and keep religion and politics out of it. Most companies are very diverse these days, so please do not impose your beliefs on others.
3. Make sure your team sees the results of their giving. The most moving experience I ever had was at Geneca when we sponsored a Make-a-Wish family. Seeing a child from a disadvantaged family going to Disneyworld knowing that it is his last trip… You get the picture.
4. Give year-round. During quarterly company meetings make sure there is an item in the agenda talking about philanthropic efforts.
5. Part of giving is mentoring. No matter how busy the members of your team are, there are tens of thousands of students who need to be mentored. At the end of the day, don’t complain about not being able to recruit good people, if you won’t even spend time helping the new crop enter the real world prepared.

I would love to hear more about how you built philanthropy into your company. Ping me with your comments.

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